Le Misanthrope

It’s a classic title, and it’s what popped into my brain after watching a few frames of this. But this movie has no resemblance to the Molière classic. It’s As Good as it Gets, starring Jack Nicholson as the only person who could have been cast as the misanthropic Melvin Udall. This came out 20 years ago and co-stars Helen Hunt as Carol Connelly, the foil to Udall’s misanthropy. I’m sure I once had the VHS, but no longer. When it showed up on Hulu earlier this month I took another look and captured some screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

You almost think Udall is normal as you snicker through the first scene. He encounters a neighbor’s miscreant toy dog in the hallway of his apartment building. The dog, named Verdell, is determined to piss on something, a prospect that’s about to send Udall up the wall. He corners the dog, which then proceeds to piss for the audience. Udall drops the pooch down the trash chute and returns to his apartment to work. He’s a best-selling author of steamy romance novels.

He’s also a poster for obsessive compulsive disorder. Washing his hands, he never uses the same bar of soap twice, chucking each bar after a single lather and unwrapping a fresh one from his stash.

Misanthropy rears its head when the Verdell’s owner, Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear), comes to confront him over his sweet, lovable puppy discovered in the trash bin in the basement. Simon is an artist, sensitive, and gay. “Do you realize I work at home? Do you like to be interrupted when you are nancing around in your little garden?” Udall has a store of remarks relating to others of all stripe. Regarding Simon’s friend, Frank Sachs (Cuba Gooding Jr.), when Simon first asks about “Verdell,” Udall pretends to  misunderstand. “I thought it was the name of that colored man I’ve been seeing in the hall.”

Whoopee! Udall stands to  offend everybody.

He has a favorite restaurant. He gets there by stepping lightly over Manhattan sidewalks, careful not to step on any cracks. Speaking of which, viewers should crack up watching tough-guy Jack Nicholson prancing lightly along the streets of New York.

This time when he arrives two people are at his favorite table at his favorite restaurant. He becomes visibly perturbed.

He confronts his favorite waitress Carol and informs her, “I’ve got Jews at my table.”

He proceeds to tick off Carol, in the worst way possible. She is a single mother with a son who has chronic health issues, making a mountainous strain of her life. “We’re all going to die sometime. I will, you will, and it sure sounds like your son will.” Writers James L. Brooks and Mark Andrus have created what is arguably the worst excuse for humanity on this planet.

Udall knows he has problems. He is seeing a psychiatrists. He barges into the doctor’s office without an appointment, reminding the doctor that this is a manifestation of his disorder. Exiting through a group counseling session, he remarks, “What if this is as good as it gets.” Hence, the title.

Simon hires a model off the street, and gets inspiration to paint. But the model’s buddies rob Simon and beat him up, leaving him hospitalized and destitute. Udall has to take care of the dog while Simon is in the hospital. But the dog responds to Udall’s piano playing and to Udall. The two bond.

Carol takes a job at another restaurant, likely to get away from Udall. At his next visit to his favorite restaurant he blows up when the waitress is not as accommodating, and he gets barred forever by the management.

The “O” in OCD stands for “obsessive,” and Udall is obsessive. He tracks down Carol and sees how miserable she is, having to deal with her son’s illness. He goes to his publisher’s office and makes an arrangement, pissing his publisher off in the process. Not to be partial, he insults the publisher’s voluptuous receptionist, who gushes over Udall’s depiction of women in his books. How does he manage so well to write women, the sex pot breaths, her amble breasts throbbing with each beat of her enraptured heart. “I think of a man. And I take away all reason and accountability.”

His publisher’s husband is a doctor, a specialist. When Carol returns home she discovers the doctor visiting, prescribing treatment for her son. Udall is picking up the tab.

Udall also picks up the tab to take Simon to visit his parents in Baltimore, where Simon hopes to grovel for money. He takes Carol along as a chaperon, because he doesn’t want to be alone on the trip with a queer man.

Taking Carol out to dine at a fine restaurant, Udall almost connects with Carol. Then he lets fly that he was thinking if Carol screwed Simon, then Simon might straighten out. Udall dines alone while Carol goes back to the room she’s sharing with Simon. Watching Carol prepare for bath inspires Simon to begin sketching again, and he figures he can now resume painting, and he doesn’t need money from his parents.

They go back to New York, and Carol and Udall hook up. But Udall’s issues remain, ensuring he manages to piss off Carol at least one more time. We know he is on the road forward as he walks with Carol, ignoring he is stepping on brick pavement.

And that’s about as good as it gets.

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About John Blanton

I'm a retired engineer living in San Antonio, Texas. I have served in the Navy, raced motorcycles, taken scads of photos and am usually a nice guy. I have political and religious opinions, and these opinions tend to be driven by an excess of observed stupidity. Gross stupidity is the supposed target of many of my posts.
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